Exclusive: 'Travel company' conmen hoodwink Kiwis with scratch-and-win tickets

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A retired policeman and a chartered accountant are among 55 New Zealanders fleeced for $1.7 million by a Malaysia-based scam.

And, despite being humiliated, a woman who lost $18,000 has decided to speak out in a bid to save others from the same fate. "I want to stop other people being caught up in this the way I was," she said.

The woman, who holds multiple university degrees, made three payments, the first in July.


"By August, the penny dropped. I know it's my own fault this has happened. I didn't get dreadfully upset or anything, because I just thought well, you've been silly. I'm not as much ashamed as embarrassed and humiliated."

Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe told the Herald that the scam had been running since at least April, involving a scratch-and-win-style ticket from a travel firm in Malaysia. Victims "win" more than US$150,000, and then contact the company to arrange getting their prize.

They are told they must pay money to "release" their prize, including local taxes and legal, insurance and court fees to "prove the money is not from illicit offending".

"It kind of seems reasonable to people. There's two distinct groups - people who never ever pay the second amount and people who are hellbent on following through with it."

Mr Pascoe, head of the Auckland financial crime unit, said some had lost more than $200,000 while others had paid the first fee and realised they had been swindled. Sadly for others, they could not be convinced they were getting ripped off.

"It's infuriating. It's very frustrating when you're talking to people who just won't believe it's a scam," Mr Pascoe said.

Among the victims was an accountant and an elderly man who was a police officer for more than 30 years. "It's beyond understanding. These are intelligent people."

The woman victim scratched her card and "won" the second prize of around US$170,000. Over the next few weeks, she spoke to two men from the company about collecting her prize.

They convinced her they were a reliable company. "Foolishly I believed them ... Foolishly, also, I ignored the warning on the Western Union form about not sending money to people one didn't know personally.

"A few months ago, I'd heard about this happening to someone else and I thought, 'Oh, how silly'.

"If only I had read it as critically then as I am now, I might have seen through this deception."

'Fraudsters rely on people's trust'

It's not just dummies who get scammed.

"High-profile and intelligent people being scammed proves that we are all susceptible," psychologist Nathan Gaunt says.

"The dream of winning lotto is such a common fantasy.

"I think some people get taken by scams because they are not seeing the details or they're thinking the best of people. They're not experienced at being suspicious."

Mr Gaunt said many scams were intricate, and the fraudsters relied on people's trusting nature rather than intellect to lure them in. They can appear to be very genuine. "One of the big problems is, people ... suspend their disbelief and they want to believe in a really good world where good things happen."